Psychology, Department of


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A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Psychology. Under the Supervision of Professor Wayne Harrison.
Lincoln, Nebraska: August, 2009
Copyright © 2009 Troy A. Romero.


Success in higher education is typically measured by retention and graduation, and traditionally the students who are least likely to succeed are at-risk students. At-risk students are characterized by one or more of the following: being from underrepresented ethnicities and cultures, having low socioeconomic status, being educated in poorly funded primary and secondary education systems, being first-generation college students, or being otherwise marginalized in society. This study was designed to test how at-risk students differ from other students in terms of the size of their academic social networks, the strength of their academic identities, and their mindset, and to what extent these differences influenced their success in higher education. Data from 87 students, comprised of two intact groups used as proxies for at-risk and advantaged students, were used to test ten hypotheses. Analyses were completed on participants’ demographic data and individual scores from two questionnaires, which included measures specifically created for this study, modified items from Lee’s (1998), Turner’s (1987), White and Burke’s (1987), and Stryker and Statham’s (1985) studies, and modified measures from Grant and Dweck’s (2003) and Astin’s (1993) studies. At-risk students had smaller academic social networks and stronger ethnic identities than advantaged students. All participants had stronger academic identities than the other identities measured (i.e., ethnic, SES, and gender). There were no group differences in mindset. Neither academic social network, academic identity, nor mindset affected academic performance based on data collected after the first semester in college. Generalizing the results of this study may be difficult because the academic identity of at-risk students was significantly stronger than expected, and the long-term time frame of one semester may have been too short to demonstrate overall effects on performance.

Adviser: Wayne Harrison